More often than not it is the individual scenes that stay with us the longer than full movies. I may not remember every scene of Patton but the opening monologue against the huge flag is a cultural touchstone that my mind constantly references.
In that spirit, regardless who wins the big prize, here are 20 scenes from 2011 that I know I'm going to take with me.
1. Melancholia - Opening
I can already tell this will rank as one of the cinema's great openings sequences. Wagner's Triston and Isolde plays over the death throes of the Earth shown as series of images both terrifying and strangely beautiful.
2. Drive - Elevator
The whole film comes together in a perfect movie moment that is shocking on the surface, but is actually heartbreakingly sad if you think about it.
3. Bridesmaids - Cupcake
Kristen Wiig bakes a cupcake for one and Bridesmaids demonstrates more pathos in one wordless scene than the modern Hollywood comedy can usually summon in a whole film.
4. The Trip - Dueling CainesSteve Coogan and Rob Brydon throw down with competing Michael Caine impressions in the funniest single scene of 2011.
5. A Dangerous Method - Lie Detector
Carl Jung uses his wife as a test subject and learns the first of many lessons about the perils of mixing the personal with the professional. Plus: neat gadgets.
6. Margin Call - RooftopOn the eve of an economic meltdown Paul Bettany stands on a high rise rooftop and casually details the ease with which he blew through two and half million dollars in a year.
7. Bellflower - Flamethrowers
A scene that seems to embody the entirety of male stupidity and immaturity with two grown knuckleheads in a back lot testing out their homemade flamethrower.
8. Shame - New York, New York
A movie stops dead so Carey Mulligan can turn the Sinatra standard into a hypnotic torch song. A scene that is at once mysterious and the essence of simplicity. Carey Mulligan can really hold a closeup.
9. Martha Marcy May Marlene - Marcy's Song
All of John Hawkes' menace and seductiveness rise to the surface in an unexpected, mesmerizing musical moment.
10. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol - Blue is Glue
Brad Bird stakes his claim in the world of live action with this doozy of an action sequence involving Tom Cruise clinging to the world's tallest building like a defective Spiderman.
11. Hugo - Dream Factory
"Do you know where your dreams come from?" A love letter to the birth of movie magic from one master to another.
12. Moneyball - Scouts
Whenever I think of tired, outdated thinking from now on, I'm going to see Brad Pitt at a table full of old-timers gabbing about the player with the "classy swing"
13. Attack the Block - Moses vs. the Monsters
The coolest single shot of the year was a slow motion shot of John Boyega with an alien strapped to his back pursued down a hallway by a dozen beasties with glowing blue fangs.
14. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Mugging
My favorite moment in the new Dragon Tattoo was a small one involving the attempted subway mugging of Lisbeth and the soundtrack exploding with the full force of her rage
15. Take Shelter - Choice
All of the film's ominous mystery boils down to the decision to open a storm shelter's door or not. No answer could possibly be as satisfying as the uncertainty.
16. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Monologue
The normally taciturn character of Smiley expounds for a few riveting minutes on the nature of the enemy in the scene with which Gary Oldman finally managed to get Oscar to take note.
17. A Separation - Revelation
The full truth is finally made clear Shaheib Hosseini's volatile husband and the resulting damage it wreaks is shattering.
18. Midnight in Paris - Rhinoceros
Adrien Brody's Salvador Dali gives Owen Wilson a crash course in surrealism and somehow makes the word "rhinoceros" a shorthand for all artistic pretension
19. Miss Bala - Pageant
A shell-shocked Laura sleepwalks through a rigged contest as her dreams of being crowned a beauty queen are distorted out of recognition
20. Margaret - Strident
Lisa meets her match Jeanne Berlin finally calls her on her shit "This isn't an opera! And we are not all supporting characters to the drama of your amazing life!"